September 25, 2015

Exclusive Interview: HydroXphere’s Charlie Houchin

charlie-houchinIt’s not often we have an Olympic gold medalist speaking at one of our technical conferences, but that’s exactly what’s happening at the AllSeen Alliance Summit 2015.

As an avid swimmer growing up in North Carolina, Charlie Houchin spent his summers participating in many volunteer-run community swim meets. After he graduated from the University of Michigan, Houchin qualified for the 2012 London Olympics, where he won a gold medal in the 4x200 freestyle relay. At the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona, he won another gold medal in the same event.

For one of his college classes, Houchin developed a business plan for improving summer swim meets. That plan became the foundation for HydroXphere, which later developed Meet Central -- a swim meet operating and timing system for volunteers, parents, and swimmers. Houchin prototyped the Meet Central app on AllJoyn -- a software framework developed by Qualcomm that lets compatible devices and applications find each other, communicate, and collaborate.

As a preview to the upcoming AllSeen Alliance Summit, we spoke with Houchin about his background, his passion for swimming, and how collaborative technologies can bring value to a community.

We don't often have Olympic gold medalists keynote our technical conferences. Can you tell us a little about your background and how you combined your sport with technology?

My background from an athletic standpoint involved playing multiple sports into middle school. Swimming was always my favorite, and I opted to just swim by 7th grade.

Swimming went from something I was good at to a serious focus after my freshman year of high school. I began competing for the U.S. National Jr. Team and, later, the U.S. National Team. I swam on scholarship at the University of Michigan and then for four professional years (two in Southern California and two in Jacksonville, Florida).

I credit a professor at UM for encouraging me to be passionate about business -- and taking ownership of my own idea. Until that point, I had not considered my path as a businessman. My journey as an athlete was always a bit off the beaten path -- I think the professor "gave me permission" to think the same way about business.

Anecdotally, it's fun to joke that, because of my intense focus on swimming as an athlete, I didn't have any choice but to come up with a business plan for swimming. While that's true, the reality is I've always been most passionate about the great relationships via the sport -- that's the underlying passion. Although not a commercialized sport, at the grassroots level, swimming's greatest strength is in its participation -- by communities all over the country. I knew there were ways to champion that participation in swimming, ways to connect those communities of participants. The use of the technology manifested itself once the problem was clear.

How did you become interested in collaborative technologies and applications?

The use case above. Participating in swimming is already something being done by millions of youth and their parents domestically. Summer swim meets are, by nature, community events that require cooperation between neighbors. The fundamental interaction is already there, but it is severely fragmented and unstructured. Everyone's participation is very "silo'd". We want to empower and equip the market to communicate that participation! (And we want to do this because they told us!)

Here's an example to illustrate the point: I was speaking at a K-12 campus after the Olympics. The Kindergarten classes couldn't come to the assembly so afterwards, I traveled around to each class to share my gold medal and answer questions. You can imagine the questions from boys and girls of this age! As I passed around the medal, one boy looked at the medal, looked back and me, his face lit up, and proceeded to tell me about the medal HE won at HIS last swim meet!

It's a cute story, but our market doesn't have that outlet by which they can communicate their participation. Folks in swimming value their participation. They want, and deserve, a way to shout about it from the rooftops. This drives us daily at HydroXphere.

Why did you choose AllJoyn when developing the Meet Central app?

AllJoyn seemed like the most appropriate option. We have a great relationship with some folks at Qualcomm, so we had learned a lot about the technology before the handoff happened. The ability to include users from multiple OS's in the same experience is obviously very compelling. The international part of our market leans Android as you might expect.

Why is open source and the Internet of Things important to you? What interesting trends or innovations are you seeing?

Regarding IoT -- I see the ability to heighten the value of a community's experience. I'm excited for those guys and gals who are passionate about their respective verticals -- those folks remaining narrow and deep in their ventures.

AllJoyn is great because it is the vehicle by which we can get narrow and deep with our community -- we're meeting them at a UX place we simply could not reach prior to AllJoyn. But we're not wowing anyone with the technology in and of itself -- we're just meeting our users at that place where they already operate and exist. While the technology has to be killer, the real fun is marrying the fundamental human behavior with the tech and seeing how the people respond. At HydroXphere, we're always amazed at how often we are discussing human behavior!

I think the space becomes more clearly defined when there is a departure from the notion that every idea has to be something that immediately impacts a billion people. Because of the ability of technology today to provide deeper user value and additional ways to monetize, we feel freed up to focus on the human element. The more we've done that, the more we see the true size of our market. It's very energizing.

This type of application is ripe in so many verticals, and again, it's going to take the guy or gal willing to throw their hat in the ring -- to stay narrow and deep -- to bring the opportunity to fruition. To own the data, you have to create the data, that's the challenge.

Product positioning is one thing that IoT tech helps enable -- certainly AllJoyn has for us -- the idea of capturing data at the point of origin -- for us, that had been a powerful concept we've applied.

What’s next for HydroXphere and for you?

The more specific we get in our market focus, the more opportunity there seems to be. We have a great Summer 2016 on the horizon -- all about supporting our community!

What can we look forward to during your keynote?

A genuine conversation with a use case that, I hope, gets anyone there thinking about what it is they can bring to life. At the very least, 30 entertaining minutes after everyone has had their morning coffee!

What advice do have for other entrepreneurs?

Know what you have to hold onto when things are moving at 120mph.

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